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Nagorno-Karabakh - 1992-1994

In a December 1991 referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state. A Supreme Soviet was elected, and Nagorno-Karabakh appealed for world recognition. Soon after Azerbaijan's independence, Armenian separatists declared control of Nagorno-Karabakh and parts of Azerbaijan - about 20% of Azerbaijan's territory - displacing almost 1 million Azeris, and a bloody war followed.

The Karabakh Army mobilised and attacked Azerbaijan. The conflict swayed backwards and forwards but in the end the Army, supported by Armenian units, cleared the Azerbaijan Army from all the territory to the west and south of the enclave and cleared the ground to the east, establishing a front line which prevented Azerbaijan guns from firing into their capital, Stepanakert. Karabakh commanders are quite clear that their offensive to the east, with the exception of the battle for Agdam which lasted for a long time, was over in a matter of hours and that they stopped as soon as this important security line was reached, having no territorial aspirations and only wanting to secure the capital.

The military position of the Armenians in the Karabakh struggle improved dramatically. Various peace negotiations sponsored by Iran, Russia, Turkey, and a nine-nation group from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe ( CSCE) had begun in 1991 and sporadically had yielded cease-fires that were violated almost immediately. In the spring of 1992, while the Azerbaijani communists and the nationalist Azerbaijani Popular Front fought for control in Baku, Karabakh Armenian forces occupied most of Nagorno-Karabakh, took the old capital, Shusha, and drove a corridor through the Kurdish area around Lachin to link Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. But the immediate result of this victory was the collapse of Russian-sponsored peace negotiations with Azerbaijan and the continuation of the war.

Beginning a counteroffensive in early summer 1992, the Azerbaijanis recaptured some territory and created thousands of new refugees by expelling Armenians from the villages they took. In midsummer 1992 this new phase of the conflict stimulated a CSCE-sponsored peace conference, but Armenia stymied progress by demanding for the first time that Nagorno-Karabakh be entirely separate from Azerbaijan. By June 1992, ethnic Armenians had expelled all ethnic Azerbaijanis from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and had opened a corridor to Armenia through the Azerbaijani region of Lachin, which had a substantial Kurdish population.

By the end of 1992, the sides were bogged down in a bloody stalemate. After clearing Azerbaijani forces from NagornoKarabakh and the territory between Karabakh and Armenia, Armenian troops also advanced deep into Azerbaijan proper -- a move that brought condemnation from the United Nations (UN) Security Council and panic in Iran, on whose borders Armenian troops had arrived.

In 1993 they captured the province of Kelbacar, which lies between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, as well as large areas surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. They drove out the inhabitants and looted and burned the provincial capitals and most of the villages of these regions. The U.N. Security Council condemned these offensive actions, including the looting and burning.

In the first half of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians gained more Azerbaijani territory, against disorganized opposition. Azerbaijani resistance was weakened by the confusion surrounding a military coup that toppled the APF government in Baku and returned former communist party boss Heydar Aliyev to power.

The coup reinvigorated Russian efforts to negotiate a peace under the complex terms of the three parties to the conflict: the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the increasingly independent and assertive Karabakh Armenians. CSCE peace proposals were uniformly rejected during this period. Although Russia seemed poised for a triumph of crisis diplomacy on its borders, constant negotiations in the second half of 1993 produced only intermittent cease-fires. At the end of 1993, the Karabakh Armenians were able to negotiate with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia from a position of power: they retained full control of Nagorno-Karabakh and substantial parts of Azerbaijan proper.

The failure of the CSCE peace plan, which Azerbaijan supported, had caused that country to mount an all-out, human- wave offensive in December 1993 and January 1994, which initially pushed back Armenian defensive lines in Karabakh and regained some lost territory. When the offensive stalled in February, Russia's minister of defense, Pavel Grachev, negotiated a cease- fire, which enabled Russia to supplant the CSCE as the primary peace negotiator. Intensive Russian-sponsored talks continued through the spring, although Azerbaijan mounted air strikes on Karabakh as late as April 1994.

By the spring of 1994, Armenians had survived a fourth winter of acute shortages, and Armenian forces in Karabakh had survived the large-scale winter offensive that Azerbaijan launched in December 1993. In May 1994, a flurry of diplomatic activity by Russia and the CIS, stimulated by the new round of fighting, produced a cease-fire that held, with some violations, through the summer. In May 1994, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh signed the CIS-sponsored Bishkek Protocol, calling for a cease-fire and the beginning of troop withdrawals. In July the defense ministers of the three jurisdictions officially extended the cease-fire, signaling that all parties were moving toward some combination of the Russian and the CSCE peace plans. In September the exchange of Armenian and Azerbaijani prisoners of war began.

A lasting treaty was delayed, however, by persistent disagreement over the nationality of peacekeeping forces that would occupy Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan resisted the return of Russian troops to its territory, while the Russian plan called for at least half the forces to be Russian.

Until the May 1994 cease-fire, all parties to the conflict engaged in indiscriminate shelling and rocket fire against civilian targets, including in both directions along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Before the cease-fire, the Azerbaijanis also mounted fixed-wing air attacks against civilian targets in both Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.

As of November 1994, there were 900,000 refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan. These figures did not include the 50,000 internally displaced persons caused by the hostilities in the spring of 1994. Close to 500,000 fled the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian offensives into Azeri-inhabited areas outside the bounds of Nagorno-Karabakh between March and September 1993, joining the 150,000 who fled in 1992 and the over 200,000 who were expelled from Armenia in 1988-89.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:45 ZULU